When JPMorgan Chase & Co. announced its deal for Washington Mutual Inc.'s bank just over a month ago, Charles Scharf, the New York company's retail head, said it had "coveted" the failed thrift's branch network for a "long time."
What it did not like, apparently, is the modern cafe-style Occasio branches patented by the Seattle company in 2000, a style often copied by peers. Mr. Scharf said the banking company plans to "retrofit" those branches to make them more like Chase offices, or close them.
However, he said, JPMorgan Chase remains bullish on the scope of the network it obtained in the $1.9 billion, government-brokered purchase. "We believe this is the only transaction that was doable that would get us into" desired markets in Florida and California, he said Thursday during a presentation to analysts in Boston.
The Occasio style stressed brief interaction with tellers who would direct customers to automated kiosks. But JPMorgan Chase's aggressive cross-selling strategy relies on traffic flow and interaction with customers.
Tom Kelly, a company spokesman, said the aim is to convert Wamu offices into more-conventional branches with traditional teller lines and a team of specialists for businesses such as financial advice, business banking, and mortgage origination.
JPMorgan Chase has been aggressively pushing cross-selling in its branches in recent years, with some success. Mr. Scharf outlined to the BancAnalysts Association of Boston Inc. fall conference a list of products his company plans to make available through Wamu branches, the most immediate being expanded checking products that could arrive "in the next few weeks." He said JPMorgan Chase was twice as productive as Wamu at selling credit cards in its branches and that the company had identified more than 5,000 prospective middle-market customers in key West Coast cities.
"We're interested in broadening the relationship to increase the longevity of that relationship," Mr. Scharf said.
Mr. Kelly said he could not provide a precise number for Wamu's Occasio branches, though he said they total fewer than half of Wamu's 2,200 offices, with high concentrations in markets such as Chicago, Dallas, Phoenix, and Denver. Some of the sites will be closed as part of JPMorgan Chase's overall plan to close 400 to 500 branches in markets with overlap, he said.
Wamu introduced its Occasio concept eight years ago in Las Vegas; it coincided with a corporate effort to transform its home loan centers into full-scale branches. Early results were promising, with the company saying in mid-2000 that deposit levels at Occasio branches were almost three times the average for new branches. Wamu won a patent for the design in 2004.
The modern concept had its share of converts, including Umpqua Holdings Corp. in Portland, Ore., and several smaller banks and thrifts in metropolitan markets.
Before its sale, Wamu was in the midst of shuttering about 40 branches this year in Chicago, New Jersey, and other markets after closing about two dozen last year, including several Occasio branches in Florida and Arizona.
Ron Shevlin, a senior analyst at Aite Group LLC, said JPMorgan Chase's decision deals the upscale branch design a well-deserved setback.
"High-tech and fancy-schmancy is nice, but form has to meet function," he said in an interview Thursday. "It was a terrible idea in the first place" because customers who prefer coffee shops are "online focused" and no longer use branches.
Vernon Hill 2nd, a retail banking pioneer as the founder and onetime chief executive of the former Commerce Bancorp Inc., said JPMorgan Chase's decision shows that not all progressive moves meet expectations. "It is obvious that Chase's retail model was stronger," he said. "Occasio branches never seemed able to handle any volume, and it was totally unsuited for the commercial side of the business."
Lani Hayward, the executive vice president of creative strategies at the $8.3 billion-asset Umpqua, said the company continues to emphasize person-to-person contact in its updated branches. "You try to create a diversified customer experience," she said. "We have found that customer experience is a huge factor in retention, cross-sell, and word of mouth. Sure, there is tweaking, but you can't just walk away from the model."
Robert Meara, a senior analyst at Oliver Wyman Group's Celent, said JPMorgan Chase's decision is probably "a cultural reaction" that highlights different approaches to retail banking. "Investment in branch automation has always been polarizing," he said. "Many banks passionately say that self-service is fine but they prefer a personal touch in the branch."
JPMorgan Chase's Mr. Kelly said that the company still views technology as a vital retail tool, noting that with Wamu it now has more than 14,000 automated teller machines.
Mr. Scharf provided other updates Thursday on the Wamu integration. JPMorgan Chase should have all employment decisions completed by Dec. 1, he said, and the company expects to keep "very few" senior retail managers from Wamu but retain "quite a few" middle managers.
He also said JPMorgan Chase would delay integrating the companies' mortgage servicing platforms until challenges in the mortgage business abate. "We're not going to rush to integrate those platforms until we're comfortable that the storm is behind us."